With the official word from Apple that Steve will give us a glimpse of Leopard at the World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in August the media frenzy to predict new features is starting to roll into high gear. I have already seen many of the fakes which are surfacing around the web and now there is even a how-to so you can join the party. While surfing this morning I ran across this great article on MacWorld listing 23 new features some of the best minds in Mac media would like to see included in the upcoming OS X release. As I was reading the article and nodding in agreement to many of their suggestions I realized that for almost every “feature” they were recommending, they also pointed out a 3rd party program already available and already doing the job. Then I realized while I use many of these 3rd party applications myself there were others listed that I don’t use and I am not interested in using. So why are we, and Apple, seemingly so eager to pump up OS Xs feature set? With the last few releases of OS X we know Apple has set a precedence of “borrowing” concepts from great 3rd party developers and rolling them into OS X. The downside to this “borrowing” is we often alienate and lose these developers along with their innovative thinking. Plus, I wonder if there isn’t a better argument for not integrating so many features into the OS.
I use it, you must too
I really hate software that tries to be all things to all people. I don’t need my text editor to also play Tetris. Some developers like to pile on feature after feature not seeming to care that for the 500 MB of extra disk space the feature will use up, only 5% of their customers will care about or use that feature. Now I love Dashboard and Widgets, but I know many people who have never hit F12 in Tiger in their life and don’t care to. Now don’t get me wrong, I know Dashboard is probably more heavily used then some obscure feature in Microsoft Office 2004, but you get my point. What was so bad about needing to install Konfabulator to get Widgets? Dashboard takes up space, memory and processor resources. Why should we assume everyone wants to, or must, use it?
Integration vs Innovation
Integrating features does make things more convenient, but at what cost? Apple only releases major updates and revisions to their OS once a year or so. That means we won’t see major enhancements or improvements to most integrated features for at least a year. Developers of 3rd party software are highly focused on just their product and tend to maintain a much more aggressive release cycle. They can adapt, extend and roll out features much more quickly. 3rd party developers are also much more in tune to the wants and needs of their customers. They can take feedback and act on it much more quickly, getting us what we want as soon as it’s ready.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all against integration of new features. I just think we need to be careful. Even though hard drives are larger and less expensive than ever I don’t want an OS loaded with obscure features taking up 50GB of disk space. Think lean, mean and clean. Lets make sure OS X has a highly developed and polished core feature set offering the biggest benefit to the broadest range of consumers. I think there is much more value in seeing a great feature like Spotlight refined, enhanced and improved vs. Apple spending resources developing 10 new features for the OS that we may or may not use. Apple should continue to extend and innovate OS X, but I propose they set a high bar on which features actually make the final cut. Leave the more niche stuff to our great 3rd party developers. Let us tailor our OS X experience how we see fit without wasting processor cycles or disk space on stuff we don’t want or need.